As you may have heard by now, the loosely-affiliated group of online activists who work under the banner of Anonymous released a dossier of personal information about the horrid, loathsome members of Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church. The goal is to presumably shame and expose the WBC members as the hateful trolls they are. Normally, I’d say that’s a fine goal. Unfortunately, it probably won’t work like that.
Picture taken by me - WBC protesting Bill Maher’s show in Lawrence, KS. The photo makes it look like they’re protesting Cold Stone Creamery, which is better.
Anon’s heart might be in the right place, but here’s the problem with this. The evil jackasses of Westboro Baptist Church love the attention and are probably eating this all up right now. There have been many efforts over the years to expose and shame the Phelps clan. All of them have failed - the problem is that people without shame cannot be shamed. Additionally, it’s not as most of this information is new. Most of it is publicly available - from names and addresses through IP addresses and WHOIS information. For better or worse, at least some of it is outdated and/or incorrect.
But those problems don’t bother me. If you or anyone else want to order a dozen pizzas to Margie Phelps’ house every evening, go for it. I’m not REALLY going to complain with anything that makes their lives harder or less enjoyable.
Here’s where I DO have a problem, though. One of the people listed in their “dossier” is a granddaughter of Fred Phelps and, as it happens, a former acquaintance of mine through a former job. This woman left her entire family and life behind when she made the decision to leave Westboro. She abhors everything they stand for. She is a wonderful, courageous woman…and yet, there’s her name in Anonymous’ dossier, along with the members of the church. Luckily, Anonymous isn’t that good at doing their homework and have almost ALL of her information wrong - from her address, city, phone number, and place of employment all the way up to her NAME (she’s married and no longer technically a “Phelps”). If Anonymous is going to really “wage war” on Westboro - a tactic that many before them have tried - they might want to aim carefully before they fire.
Which brings us to another issue. Not only do they have innocents in their crosshairs, several of the Phelps clan are VERY good attorneys…yes, in addition to being hateful scumbags. Attorney friends in Topeka have told me many times that the Phelps’ are very well respected professionally, if not personally. Winning/settling lawsuits directed at them is popularly assumed* to be a primary source of their income. In other words, they know their rights.
Additionally, a few members of the Phelps family either work for or alongside SRS (Kansas’ beleaguered social services agency), as explained in the Anonymous dossier. Again, I’m told by people in Topeka that the state has long been aware of their presence and would LOVE for nothing more than to be able to axe them…without a huge, costly legal battle. So what’s an “online activist” to do with all that work information? Complain to the state? They already know. Flood SRS with phone calls and letters? What the hell is that going to do? Harassing SRS, an agency already severely overworked, understaffed, and underfunded, will only serve to prevent needy Kansans from receiving services they already have a hard time receiving.
As always, the solution to Westboro Baptist Church is silence. Don’t put them on TV. Don’t give them another opportunity to make more money off a lawsuit. Marginalize them. Ignore them. That’s the only way to (legally) make them go away.
*UPDATE: James Gordon of the Ottawa (ON) Citizen tells me that WBC has only filed five civil suits and none since 2007. I may be incorrect on the sources of their income - I was just repeating the conventional wisdom. That said, the Phelps Chartered law firm exists so WBC assuredly derives some income from legal matters.